China and India are the giants of the developing world economies, with gross domestic product growth topping 8 percent a year and industrializing economies that now account for 20 percent of the world's plastic consumption.
But when it comes to relations between the plastics sector in both places, they might as well be on a first date.
Trade between the nations last year was a paltry $460 million, with India sending $273 million of plastics goods to China, and China exporting $187 million back, a fraction of both countries' total bilateral trade of $25 billion.
To encourage more business between the two most populous countries in the world, trade associations from both nations organized the first China India Plastics Industry Summit, held May 20 in Guangzhou, ahead of the Chinaplas 2007 trade show. The summit attracted 85 people from India and more than 200 from China.
Like some first dates, expectations weren't all that high, and officials are calling it a success simply because they've agreed to meet again, even if they're a little unsure what exactly they'll talk about next time.
Mahendra Patel, chairman of Indian plastics equipment maker Mamata Group, has some ideas. He told summit participants that one opportunity for Chinese firms lies with India's lack of mold makers.
``India's capacity for tooling is very limited,'' he said. ``India needs to import tools and China has probably the best opportunity there.''
India, for its part, has opportunities exporting technical skills, technology and computer software to China, Patel said. His company makes injection, blow molding, film and other equipment, both on its own and in ventures with foreign firms.
Mamata Group, based in Ahmedabad, India, is setting up a rubber injection press factory in Wuxi, China, and Patel said he sees opportunities taking India's software skill in machine controllers and combining it with China's ``massive manufacturing capacity.''
The two countries in some ways have very different plastics markets.
India's is much smaller, in part, Indian executives said, because their government was much slower to open its economy, starting in the early 1990s, while China began in the late 1970s.
India consumes just 11 billion pounds of plastics a year, with a population of 1.1 billion, while China's export-oriented economy and its 1.3 billion people consume 66 billion pounds. India's per capita plastics consumption of 11 pounds is just a fraction of the world average of 57.2, Indian officials said.
``We are a late starter compared to China with globalization and the opening of the market,'' said Patel. ``China has leapfrogged ahead of us.''
While several Indian speakers said they felt their country has technological advantages because of its skilled workforce, stronger English skills and longer history of interaction with Western economies, Chinese executives also pointed to areas where they felt a technology advantage.
China has a higher level of fluoroplastics resin-making technology, for example, so there are opportunities to export material and technology to India, said Chen Shang, speaking for the Beijing-based China Plastics Processing Industry Association's Fluoroplastics Committee.
China's technology is much cheaper than that from developed countries, making it potentially more attractive to Indian buyers, she told the group in a speech.
Whatever the relative merits of each nation's technology, both nations are projecting strong growth. Indian officials told the summit that China and India will be the second- and third-largest consumers of plastics, respectively, by 2012, trailing only the United States.
Amar Seth, vice president of the Mumbai-based Plastindia Foundation, told the summit India currently ranks No. 8 worldwide in total plastics consumption, but he said employment in the sector is projected to almost quadruple, from 2.5 million workers in 2005 to 9.5 million by 2015.
At the moment, the countries have different industrial focuses. China's expertise is in mass production, he said, while India is more oriented toward higher-technology, lower-volume manufacturing.
Seth suggested Chinese firms could use India as a platform for manufacturing those lower-volume applications, and he said in an interview after his speech that India remains an attractive manufacturing location for other countries that want an alternative to China.
``For political reasons, many countries do not want to buy from China, or they do not want to buy only from China, so they are looking at India as another source of supply,'' he said.
He told the conference that he considers India's established democracy and well-developed judiciary to be among its strengths.
One Indian attendee at the conference said he came to explore Chinese barrier technology for containers, hoping to find something cost-effective.
``I tried for some technology from Europe and found it prohibitively expensive, but I thought by coming here I could find something in my area of interest,'' said Vijay Merchant, president of Mumbai-based blow and injection molder Polycraft Industries. ``I am trying to find people here who are willing to share technology.''
Merchant said fundamentally both countries are trying to raise the living standards of their citizens, and their industries should collaborate to develop new applications and markets toward that goal.
There is some Chinese plastics investment in India.
Ningbo-based injection press giant Ningbo Haitian Group Co. Ltd. and an Indian partner, Electronica Machine Tools Ltd. in Pune, for example, plan to set up a joint venture machinery factory in India to make machines up to 450 metric tons, according to Milind Agnihotry, associate vice president of Electronica.
One Chinese attendee at the summit, an executive with compounder Beijing Huateng Hightech Co. Ltd., said his firm started exporting small amounts of polybutylene terephthalate to India last year, and sees opportunities.
``For us the opportunity is small, but for other companies - for power companies, for construction companies, maybe some PVC companies - they have a great chance,'' said Wang Zheqiang, vice director of sales for Beijing-based Huateng.